History of Magic

Richard Hatch enlists the help of two volunteers as he performs an updated version of a historical magic trick with cups and balls.

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Sacks of grain in exchange for magic performances and “the most hated man in magic” paying a visit to Logan are just a few of the stories local magician Richard Hatch shared with the Cache Valley Historical Society on Thursday night.

“My vocation is magic, but my avocation, my hobby, is studying its history,” Hatch said.

Thanks to the digitization of archives of local papers, Hatch was able to indulge his curiosity and share his findings in a presentation on the history of magic in Utah and Cache Valley.

“Logan was considered the Athens of the West,” Hatch said. “Because of the college, there was a lot of culture going on. The Thatcher theater was one of finest theaters west of the Mississippi. It was air-conditioned and comfortable.”

After the Thatcher Opera House burned down in 1912, the venues changed, but the community was still thrilled by magic, Hatch said.

“I think the local interest in culture in general probably fostered an interest in magic,” Hatch said.

Ads for performances in historical Cache Valley advertise grain as an acceptable form of payment and a $10 additional charge for babes in arms. According to Hatch, only one of these was meant seriously. In communities as small and rural as the Cache Valley of the 1800s, it was common for magicians to accept grain and other goods as payment for their shows instead of just cash. However, the $10 charge was meant as a joke, Hatch said.

“They didn’t want crying babies there, but they weren’t really going to charge them $10,” Hatch said, adding that many people reading the ad today don’t pick up on the humor.

Hatch found records, mainly newspapers, of many different traveling magicians paying visits to Utah and Cache Valley, including performances in Salt Lake attended by Brigham Young, and one visit to Logan by Herbert Albini, an infamously rude magician.

“He was the mosted hated man in magic at that time,” Hatch said, adding that Albini was rude not just to his peers, but his audiences, too.

Though Hatch doesn’t have any plans to imitate Albini’s style, he’s learned a lot from studying the history of magic.

“I find a lot of inspiration in the past by looking at the things they were doing,” Hatch said.

Some tricks still popular in magic date back centuries, including a simpler version of the well-known cups and balls trick Hatch performed at the start of his presentation. A few of these tricks, even more obscure ones, Hatch said, survived by being passed from magician to magician long enough to be immortalized in film.

Hatch’s presentation, called Pioneers of Prestidigitation: Magicians in Early Utah, only summed up the highlights of his findings. Hatch said he plans to continue exploring the valley’s magical history.

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